Dinosaur drama 'Jurassic Park' leads the thundering herd of big new summer releases

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In one corner there's a 74-foot-long brachiosaur.

In the other, a 75-foot-tall Schwarzenegger.

It's the battle of the bigfoots, and it's coming to a multiplex near you.

With Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," the DNA-clone dino-fantasy adapted from Michael Crichton's best seller, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero," a slam-bang fantasy about a teen-ager who steps into a movie starring a pumped-up juggernaut (in one sequence, a giant inflatable Schwarzenegger literally looms over Times Square), the summer '93 has a pair of blockbusters on its hands.

At least that's what everybody thinks.

"I'm certain that those two will be among the top movies, if not the top movies, for summer," says Dick Cook, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "There will also probably be two or three others that no one is talking about that'll end up in the top grouping -- movies that come out of nowhere."

"Is there any way they can fail?" says Martin Grove, film analyst for the Hollywood Reporter, of "Jurassic" and "Hero." "They can fail like any other film, if word-of-mouth is disappointing, because that will kill any movie. But I think it's unlikely. I expect both to deliver."

And they'll need to. Universal Pictures -- which has been long on flops in recent years -- is pinning its hopes on the mega-special-effects "Jurassic Park," which cost $60 million to make and $20 million to $25 million more to print and market. That means that the Friday release -- which stars Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and a herd of genetically engineered velociraptors and tyrannosaurs who run amok in a theme park -- needs to gross about $180 million to break even. ("Batman Returns," last summer's -- and last year's -- No. 1 hit, earned $163 million in domestic receipts.)

As for "Last Action Hero" -- which opens June 18 and teams Mr. Schwarzenegger with pubescent newcomer Austin O'Brien -- the $65 million adventure from director John McTiernan ("Die Hard") has had disappointing test screenings and last-minute reshoots. But that's happened before, and the films have gone on to earn quadrillions.

'Make plenty of money'

Columbia Pictures Chairman Mark Canton, admittedly not a disinterested party, promises a "Hero" with "surprises and special effects that have never been seen before." As Mr. Canton told the Wall Street Journal, "between international and domestic [revenues], we're going to make plenty of money."

Other folks are also likely to make plenty of money over the summer, a time when Hollywood typically earns 40 percent of its annual box office. More than 60 major studio releases are scheduled to hit theaters between now and Labor Day -- so many, in fact, that several contenders, including "Dave," "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," "Sliver" and "Hot Shots! Part Deux" jumped the traditional Memorial Day weekend kick-off by as much as three weeks.

While every summer has producers and studio honchos agonizing over the glut, this year seems particularly bad. Variety estimates that there will be 33 percent more titles this season than in 1992.

"You'd have to be nuts not to be concerned," says Ivan Reitman, director and producer of the pre-summer hit "Dave," and of past summer smashes "Animal House," "Meatballs," "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters."

"You try to make sure that your pictures are positioned in the marketplace so that they have the best and longest life they possibly can," explains Mr. Cook of Buena Vista, which is releasing 10 titles -- more than any other studio.

"The marketplace in the summertime always expands to accept as many good movies as there are, and the ones that aren't so good will go by the wayside," he says. "But you know what? They'd go by the wayside anyway."

Most observers feel that the summer will yield three to five pictures that will do extremely well. Along with "Jurassic Park" and "Last Action Hero," the consensus is that Clint Eastwood's Secret Service drama "In the Line of Fire" (July 9), Sylvester Stallone's high-altitude "Cliffhanger" (which produced $20 million in ticket sales during the Memorial Day weekend) and the Tom Cruise legal thriller "The Firm" (June 30) have the best shot at hitting the magic $100 million mark.

Unlike previous years, where most summer blockbusters came affixed with Roman or Arabic numerals, this season's allotment of sequels is on the skimpy side. "Hot Shots! Part Deux" is the likeliest of the summer follow-ups to demonstrate staying power. The other '93 sequels: "Weekend at Bernie's 2" (July 9), "Stakeout 2" (July 30), "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" (Aug. 13) and "Son of the Pink Panther" (Aug. 20).

Alarming trend

In an increasingly alarming trend of hoary TV hits heading to the big screen, this summer has three: "Coneheads" (July 23), with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin leading the "Saturday Night Live" spinoff about a family of peak-topped aliens adapting to life on planet Earth; "Dennis the Menace" (June 25), wherein producer John Hughes hopes to cash in on the Nickelodeon Channel reruns of the sitcom based on Hank Ketcham's comic; and "The Fugitive" (Aug. 6), a promising-looking feature based on the popular '60s series. Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, who has been wrongly accused of murdering his wife and is desperately attempting to track down the real killer.

Although it has nothing to do with Woodstock, 1993 could also have its Summer of Love. There's Touchstone Pictures' "What's Love Got to Do With It (Friday), with Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne in a biopic based on Tina Turner's autobiography. There's "For Love or Money" (Aug. 20), with Michael J. Fox as an ambitious New York hotel concierge. And there's "The Thing Called Love" (July 16), Peter Bogdanovich's Nashville tale of four would-be country singers.

There are also plenty of tales from the 'hood: "Menace II Society," Albert and Allen Hughes' gritty street drama from New Line; the comedy "Meteor Man" (some time in August), with writer-director-star Robert Townsend as an inner city superhero; John Singleton's long-awaited "Boyz N the Hood" follow-up, "Poetic Justice" (July 23); and "Father Hood" (August), with Patrick Swayze as a small-time criminal who springs some kids from a squalid shelter and takes them on a joy ride.

Every summer forecast has its list of potential sleepers, and pundits are falling over themselves trying to call this year's long shots.

Sleepers stirring

On a lot of people's lists is TriStar's "Sleepless in Seattle" (June 25), but with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starring and Nora Ephron directing, this hardly classifies as an unknown quantity.

"What qualifies as a sleeper?" asks Ed Russell, TriStar's senior vice president of marketing and field promotion. "I think that when people are referring to a sleeper -- in the summer, at least -- they're talking about something that's not a big hardware film. It's story-driven."

Rather than a "sleeper," Mr. Russell likes to think of "Sleepless" as "incredible counterprogramming. . . . I think it'll be the film that plays and plays and plays throughout the summer." Indeed, early buzz has it that test audiences and critics are enamored of the romantic comedy.

A more legitimate would-be sleeper is 20th Century Fox's "Rookie of the Year" (July 9), a baseball comedy about a 12-year-old with a pitching arm of such accuracy (and velocity) that he joins the Chicago Cubs.

Another possibility is Warner's "Free Willy" (July 16), a boy-and-his-whale tale that the studio has test-screened with near record-high audience results. The film's biggest star (apart from its 7,000-pound killer whale) is Michael Madsen, the sadistic gangster of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."

And speaking of Mr. Tarantino, Warner has "True Romance" (July 9) from the very hot, violence-obsessed screenwriter. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are a misfit couple on the run from the mob, and the film abounds with reportedly brilliant cameos from Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Samuel Jackson, Val Kilmer and Brad Pitt. ("It's 'Reservoir Dogs' times five with a love story thrown in," reports one industry insider who attended a packed West Coast screening last week.)

Dozens of others

There are dozens of other titles vying for sleeper status, of course -- everything from the MTV-spawn Pauly Shore's "The Son-in-Law" (July 2) to "Heart and Souls" (Aug. 6), a ghost comedy with Robert Downey Jr. and Charles Grodin.

And there are dozens of big-star, big-money vehicles hoping to share the box office bounty with the behemoths. There's Sharon Stone in "Sliver." Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes in "Rising Sun" (July 30) -- the summer's second Crichton adaptation -- is nothing to sneeze at. Ditto for "Made in America," with Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg in a comedy-romance.

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